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Commentary: A vision for a student-centered BSU

The vision for Bemidji State University is ambitious -- we intend to become the Midwest's premier stud-ent-centered state university. Within that singular focus, we will prepare students for a world that will differ vastly from the one that exist...

The vision for Bemidji State University is ambitious -- we intend to become the Midwest's premier stud-ent-centered state university. Within that singular focus, we will prepare students for a world that will differ vastly from the one that exists today -- a world where the unrelenting pace of change quickens and the importance for lifelong learning and leadership mounts.

At the core of this vision are three signature themes encompassing Bemidji State's passion and promise not only to our students, but also to the world in which they will live and work. Those themes -- international and multicultural understanding, civic responsi-bility and environmental stewardship -- stand ready to define the very essence of what it means to be a graduate of Bemidji State University.

How do we reach this promising future within the fiscal realities of higher education today? Shifting demographics, rapidly evolving technologies, rising tuition, shrinking governmental dollars and increasing costs are gnawing at university infrastructures throughout the United States. Bemidji State University will not escape unscathed.

Over the past several months, the budgetary challenges at the university have been a topic of much discussion on campus and within the surrounding communities. Our intentions are known -- we have committed to reducing, realigning and investing resources totaling $5 million by 2010. This plan of action best prepares Bemidji State University for a future that will fulfill student needs within the fiscal constraints of higher education.

This budgetary plan is a result of careful consideration and input from a broad constituency. Throughout the year, administration has consulted with faculty, bargaining units, students, community groups, alumni and concerned individuals.

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Admittedly, the process appeared cumbersome and, at times, contentious to those outside the university. And yet, the very core of our mission as an institution of higher education is to nurture an environment where an open discussion of opposing viewpoints can flourish. Within this environment, the best ideas most often emerge.

The result of our extensive process is a plan developed with a strong sense of cooperation and negotiation. The plan enables the university to review and streamline its operating budget and work toward reshaping the structure of its curriculum, departments and services.

The liberal arts will continue to walk hand-in-hand with career programs. We will focus on enrollment growth with new offerings such as the four-year nursing program opening this fall and through additional programs in emerging areas such as those found in manufacturing and applied engineering. Online and distance programs will continue expanding to bring Bemidji State to even more individuals who are unable to access education through traditional ways.

Enrolling more students is not enough. Once students arrive on campus, we must ensure that each student has access to services needed to reach his or her potential. To that end, the Advising Success Center is being advanced under this plan. The center will be a collaborative effort to combine underrepresented student retention activities with retention activities targeted to the larger student population.

Renovated and new facilities will continue to reinvigorate our campus infrastructure. Within the past five years, we have celebrated the opening of the American Indian Resource Center, the completion of the Center of Advanced and Emerging Technologies in Bridgeman Hall, the second-phase renovation of Bridgeman Hall and the expansion of services in Hobson Memorial Union.

This spring we launched Linden Hall's transformation from a traditional dorm into two- and three-bedroom suites and a $9.5 million renovation and expansion of the science facilities in Sattgast Hall is on the immediate horizon.

Much must be in place for Bemidji State University to become the Midwest's premier student-centered university. The budget plan will help establish the reforms and restructuring needed to guide Bemidji State through the challenges we face in securing a bright future for the university.

Jon E. Quistgaard is president of Bemidji State University.

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